Firearm sentence is concurrent

Carlos Renton Russell was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to possession of an unlicensed firearm.

His sentence will run at the same time as the 11 years he is serving for manslaughter. The Crown offered no evidence on a third charge of discharging a firearm at an officer.

All charges arose from the same incident. Russell shot and killed Phillip Watler at the George Town Hospital on 30 March 2005. Earlier this year he was tried in Grand Court, where a jury found him not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter by reason of provocation (Caymanian Compass, 6 March).

Last week, Solicitor General Cheryll Richards explained that, based on the law as it stands, an indictment for murder cannot have any other charges on it. Therefore the firearm offences could not be brought at the same time.

The first new charge put to Russell was possession of an unlicensed .38 calibre revolver and 13 live cartridges; he pleaded guilty.

The next new charge was unlawful use of a firearm – that he unlawfully discharged a firearm at a woman police officer. He pleaded not guilty.

Ms Richards said the Crown would not proceed with the second charge, given Russell’s plea to the first. She offered no evidence after explaining the officer’s account of the incident, which occurred outside the hospital after the shooting inside.

The officer had said the firearm was discharged in her direction, but she did not believe Russell intended to kill her or harm her. She believed he fired it in an attempt to get away.

Mr. Justice Alexander Henderson agreed that the Crown would have had considerable difficulty proving that the firearm was discharged at the officer. No slug was recovered, so there was no way to show the bullet’s trajectory, he said.

Ms Richards advised the court that Russell was not the holder of a firearms licence. Further, he had a previous conviction for an unlicensed firearm.

The judge asked if that previous conviction was before him when he imposed the 11 years for manslaughter. He was told yes.

The judge then asked if there is a mandatory minimum sentence.

Ms Richards said there is a 10-year minimum, given that sentence was being imposed after the passing of the law. The Firearms Law was amended in October 2005, setting the 10-year minimum.

Mr. Justice Henderson asked if the governing factor was the date of the sentence rather than the date of the offence. He queried whether this was in accordance with usual practice.

He pointed out that when he sentenced Russell for manslaughter he knew the weapon was a handgun and he knew from the defendant’s evidence that the gun was not licensed. He took all of that into account along with a lot of other things. He asked whether the offence of having an unlicensed firearm had not been subsumed in the previous sentence.

Ms Richards suggested that if the charge could have been on the indictment, the judge might have dealt with it in a different way. Now the question was whether the sentence would be concurrent or separate.

The judge said it was all part of the same narrative. On behalf of Russell, Howard Hamilton QC agreed. He also reminded the court that Russell had wanted to plead guilty to manslaughter before the trial started, but that plea was not acceptable to the Crown.

The judge said that the firearm sentence must be concurrent because the offence was part and parcel of the manslaughter.

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